Leadership During Crisis

Leadership During Crisis Podcast Series

The Leadership During Crisis Podcast represents a collaboration between GSPIA's Center for Disaster Management and the Frances Hesselbein Leadership Forum. In exploring stories from leaders who have led through crisis, we consider the behaviors and attributes that are necessary to guide others under stress, ambiguity, or even danger to achieve the best possible outcomes. 

Over the course of the 2017-18 academic year, we spoke with leaders across local, national, and global events, and — at the end of our four-part series — looked back to observe common behaviors among leaders who are effective during crisis. Our findings were published in the Leader to Leader Journal in the fall of 2018. Ultimately, we observed common behaviors across three dimensions — how leaders assume and demonstrate responsibility in a crisis, how they make decisions and collaborate with others in uncertainty, and how they cope with substantial stress. 

Over the summer of 2018, we also produced a final special episode, published in two parts. This special episode delves into several behaviors we identified as common among effective leaders — facilitating crisis planning, establishing public presence and credibility, and successfully coping with a high degree of stress — by speaking to experts in these behaviors. 

Each episode is available for listening below, or by searching "Leadership During Crisis" on SoundCloud. An educator/facilitator discussion guide is also available below for each of the four main episodes. 

2017-2018 LDC Podcast Project Team

Lindsey Anderson
John Bonello
Robert Michael Bryant
Chelsea Buckwalter
Alia Dwirahmani
Alyson Harding
Leah Kaufman
Lucy Gillespie
Alyssa Jones
Aishwarya Kumar
Ivoree Svoboda
Allegra Tartaglia
Terry-Ann Wellington

Episode 1  - Community Leadership During the 2017 California Wildfires

Episode 1 Team: Lindsey Anderson, Alia Dwirahmani, Leah Kaufman
Facilitation Guide for Episode 1

In Episode 1, we focus on the fundamental role that individuals and communities play in their own response to crisis and disaster. We tell the stories of three leaders who each took action outside their normal roles to help their community understand and respond to the October wildfires in northern California. How did these leaders make sense of what was happening and what was needed? Why and how did they decide to act? Our episode begins at the State of California’s Emergency Operations Center in Sacramento, where we learn more about the nature of these dangerous fires from the head of California’s Office of Emergency Services and FEMA’s Region 9 Administrator. We then hear from three local community leaders — Jennifer Gray Thompson, Maureen Cottingham, and Corey Beck — about how they advocated for their communities' needs, worked to meet those needs, and turned toward recovery and lessons learned. 


Episode 2  - Local Leadership in Response to Pittsburgh's Water Problem

Episode 2 Team: Lucy Gillespie, Aishwarya Kumar
Facilitation Guide for Episode 2

Episode 2 explores crisis leadership from several unique dimensions in asking not only how local leaders are managing Pittsburgh's recent boil water alerts, but — more importantly —what they are doing in the mid and long-term to avoid a more significant water crisis like what occurred in Flint, Michigan. This episode features interviews with Amie Downs, Communications Director for Allegheny County, and Will Pickering, Communications Manager for the Pittsburgh Water and Sewer Authority. Amie and Will help us understand a Pittsburgh story that reflects a larger narrative occurring across the country. Aging infrastructure is creating real vulnerabilities for local communities, and local leaders have inherited the responsibility for managing such risks within constrained resources before they become a more acute crisis. 


Episode 3- International Search and Rescue Leadership in Response to the 2010 Haiti Earthquake 

Episode 3 Team: Ivoree Svoboda, Chelsea Buchhalter, Alyson Harding, Terry-Ann Wellington
Facilitation Guide for Episode 3

Episode 3 explores challenges faced by the international search and rescue community in responding to the 2010 earthquake in Haiti. This episode features an interview with Dewey Perks, coordinator of the U.S. Agency for International Development's urban search and rescue program. A seasoned international relief professional and firefighter, Dewey describes the evolution of the international search and rescue community, its operations in an environment as challenging as Haiti post-earthquake, and leadership lessons from that disaster and others. 


Episode 4  - Federal Law Enforcement and the 2015 Charleston Church Shooting

Episode 4 Team: Alyssa Jones, Robert Bonello, Robert Michael Bryant, Allegra Tartaglia
Facilitation Guide for Episode 4

Episode 4 explores federal law enforcement's response to the 2015 Charleston Church shooting. This episode features interviews with two senior officials from the Department of Justice's Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, and Firearms (ATF) who responded to the 2015 shooting. Gerod King, Public Information Officer, and Wayne Dixie, Special Agent in Charge at the ATF's Charlotte Field Division, discuss the challenges of preparing for and responding to low-probability and high consequence events such as active shooters. They also share insights on relationship building across jurisdictions and agencies in advance of a crisis and effective communications and planning during one. 


Special Final Episode 

Through our podcast series, we observed common behaviors across three major themes: how leaders assume and demonstrate leadership during a crisis, how they cope with significant stress, and how they make decisions and collaborate with others in uncertainty. Our detailed observations were published in Leader to Leader Journal in the fall of 2018, but we also chose to explore these themes in more detail for a final special episode by speaking to experts on different aspects of the behaviors we've observed. 

Special Episode Part 1 - The Case for Crisis Planning

Part 1 focuses on crisis planning, or a leader's ability to facilitate shared goals among diverse actors in real-time. Through an interview with Tom Breslin, former Deputy Chief of Staff at FEMA and planning expert, we understand what crisis planning is, why it's valuable to any organization, and how it drives effective operations in response to a crisis.  



Special Episode Part 2 - Developing Leadership Presence and Mental Resilience in Advance of Crisis

In Part 2, we turn to how leaders can develop their ability to earn others' confidence and maintain composure when the stakes are highest. We speak with Cara Alter, author of The Credibility Code, about the behaviors that most influence others' perceptions of credibility, as well as strategies to manage adrenaline in the moment. We also hear from Professor David Creswell, Director of Carnegie Mellon University's Human Performance Lab, about the relationships between mental resilience and mindfulness in high stress situations. 


Center for Disaster Management
3807 Wesley W. Posvar Hall, Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania 15260